Don’t search for cocktails in the city of sausage
Published at 14:15, Friday, 03 September 2010
Sitting gingerly on rickety metal chairs, surrounded by sale-priced potted lilies, box trees and hydrangeas, we were shivering in a chill breeze and sipping what passed (but only just) for cocktails.
We were lucky to get them, to be honest.
Had not the continental market been doing its bank holiday thing – with the Polish Bar a focal point in it – we’d have struggled to get even those.
Carlisle, 5pm. The city was shutting up shop and rushing off home.
Her tipple was Pimm’s, complete with ostentatious fruit bowl and child’s straw. Mine, gin and tonic. Ice – but he forgot the lemon.
We must have looked a right pair of plonkers, perched as though on the Promenade des Anglais, with our plastic beakers and carrier bags, in the shadow of the Market Cross. Café society this was not.
But we were doing our best to be – well, civilised. Yes, that’s the word. Civilised. Sophisticated would have been pushing it too far.
“Is that a single?” she asked, eyeing my plastic cup.
“Hmm. Maybe we’d have been better with strawberry beer.”
We’re strong-willed women, not easily distracted from a mission to be civilised and very rarely beaten. So we persevered, ignoring greying skies and spits of rain.
She removed her designer shades, I lit a cigarette and wore my bravest smile. The least I could do, since it had been my fault in the first place.
It had been a fun day of frenzied shopping – the kind only women can enjoy. We’d run through House of Fraser like a dose of salts, buying all the things we hadn’t realised we’d needed; an Italian bag at The Loft; a rummage through Jaeger’s shoes – another bag, more shades. We were on a roll. The spend-at-speed kind.
Then, by 5pm, I’d forgotten where I was. And I dropped a bombshell.
“What we need now is pause for a cocktail.”
“Ah,” she said. “Problem.”
Now, I’m of the opinion that a cocktail is never a problem.
It’s the one view I share with Tony Blair.
And there’s never been a hitch in any other shopping city where I’ve overspent. Shop, cocktail, more shop, eat. Such a simple routine. Like slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. I thought everyone did it.
“Not in Carlisle,” she said.
Which was how we ended up at the market’s Polish Bar wishing we’d done strawberry beer, watching our city pull down its shutters and scuttle away to Cumberland sausage on the table at six.
Not quite what I’d envisaged as happy hour – unless you count rhyming slang.
“I reckon we must look a right pair of plonkers.”
But she’d already decided it didn’t matter. It was who we were that was important, not what people thought of us – which was most profound for a woman fortified only by a weak Pimm’s.
We might appear a touch overdressed for a market beer stop, she added. But that was more to do with the inverted snobbery of those propping up the bar, knocking back beer from bigger beakers than ours. They could have dressed up for their day out in Carlisle but had chosen not to.
I was pondering this chastising turnabout on my plonker theory when, after chewing on a piece of cucumber, she piped up again with a concerned tone.
“I hope nobody saw me coming out of there last week,” she said.
“My niece works there. I nipped in to congratulate her on her exam results, that’s all.”
“Yes but where?”
“That shop over there.” In a whisper now. “Ann Summers. If anyone I know saw me coming out of Ann Summers, goodness knows what they’ll have thought of me.”
There, all of a sudden was an additional element to ponder in this increasingly confused social theorising.
“And what kind of snobbery is that? Inverted... or are you just boasting?”
A good friend shouldn’t enquire too closely about intimate purchases. So, I didn’t. And anyway, she swore she hadn’t.
But knowing what she’s like when she sees a sale or money-off ticket – well, there’s nothing much I would put past her.
Especially in Carlisle’s dead time – between 5pm and 7pm – when shutters come down on shopping and have yet to rise on sipping. Anything could happen in dead time.
“Can we assume the restaurant will be open by now?”
Best change the subject.
“Don’t know but the car park will be locking up, so...”
Funny old place, Carlisle. Sweet and lovely – but decidedly funny.
Published by http://www.cumberlandnews.co.uk